Special needs scholarship thriving

The St. Thomas Aquinas Scholarship Fund started just five months ago and already it has provided assistance to 47 students at 15 schools in the diocese.

Michael Acquilano, director of the South Carolina Catholic Conference, said they have received some very generous donations recently — the largest being $300,000 — that allows the organization to help even more students.

Close to 125 donors have contributed over $700,000, Acquilano said. So far, the organization has awarded $328,000 of that amount to eligible students.

The fund was created to serve children designated by recent school choice legislation, which at this time serves only special needs children. It was passed in 2013 as a temporary proviso and was recently included in the state budget and authorized for fiscal year 2014-2015, Acquilano said.

To qualify for scholarship funding, a child must have an established Individualized Education Program (IEP) issued by a public school district and dated within the last three years, according to the website IndependentEd. Parents will need to provide this proof as part of their application packet, which is available at www.sccatholicsfo.org.

The diocese has 18 schools authorized for the St. Thomas Aquinas scholarships, either through designated programs or teachers trained to assist special needs children. For a complete list of those schools, visit www.independented.org/schools.

Families who would like to apply for St. Thomas funding should submit an application to the school of their choice. The fund serves only Catholic schools in the diocese.

Acquilano said supporters of school choice can donate to the fund in a way that won’t cost them a penny — by allocating up to 60 percent of their state income tax. He said this is not an extra donation, but simply a reallocation of what is already paid in taxes.